TOKYO -- Japan-born North Korean footballer Ri Yong-jik said Saturday he hopes to play in South Korea in the future.
Ri, 26, played for North Korea at the East Asian Football Federation E-1 Football Championship in Japan. North Korea finished last in the four-nation tournament with one draw and two losses.
In this file photo taken on Dec. 9, 2017, North Korea national football team midfielder Ri Yong-jik (C) makes a header during a match against Japan at the East Asian Football Federation E-1 Football Championship at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo. (Yonhap)
"I have a good impression of Incheon (Asian Games), so I hope I can play in South Korea one day," Ri told reporters after North Korea played to a 1-1 draw with China at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo.
South Korean supporters at the stadium sang the Korean folk song "Arirang" after North Koreans finished their match. Ri thanked the South Koreans for their support.
"Just like what they did in Incheon, South Korean fans supported us," he said. "Football has nothing to do with politics, so I was able to feel that we are together."
Ri is a Zainichi -- an ethnic Korean resident in Japan -- who was born in Osaka. He has been playing for North Korea internationally since 2015. At the club level, he has been mainly playing with Japanese second-tier teams.
"My biggest goal at this moment is to play in the J1 League (Japanese first division)," said Ri who is now with Japanese second division side Kamatamare Sanuki. "People say to me why am I still in the J2 League. Some South Koreans have told me that I can play in South Korea if I go there. But then I thought I didn't have enough talent or confidence."
Ri said he earned confidence through the E-1 Football Championship. The midfielder played in all three matches for North Korea at the tournament.
"I gained confidence through this tournament," he said. "If I can go to the J1 next year, I think I can meet with more South Korean players."
Ri wouldn't be the first North Korean international to play in South Korea if he gets his wish. Players like Jong Tae-se and An Yong-hak also had stints in the K League.
"I know it's going to be difficult (to play in South Korea) even though players like An Yong-hak and Jong Tae-se have played there before," he said. "I first need to earn an opportunity and if there's a talk, I want to give it some positive thought."
When asked about North Korea's Norwegian coach Jorn Andersen, Ri said: "I think we're seeing some differences from the past since an experienced coach came here." (Yonhap)